"Forged Alliance is more or less what you'd expect from an expansion pack: more of the same. But hey, that's alright, because Supreme Commander was great to begin with."
If I seem to have earned the label of HG's RTS Guy, it's no coincidence; I've been an advocate of the RTS genre almost as long as I've been a gamer, ever since I first played the original Warcraft on my 486. So when I get an email from the Honest Gamer himself saying there's a copy of Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance up for grabskis, that probably means it's time to visit my shrine to the Gaming Gods and ritually sacrifice a copy of Empire Earth. Or something.
If you weren't paying attention when Supreme Commander was released earlier this year and recieved rave reviews, let me fill you in: Supreme Commander, or SupCom as it is affectionately referred to, is the spiritual sequel to Chris Taylor's 1997 RTS Total Annihilation. SupCom shook up the RTS sandbox by drastically scaling up the battlefield, creating sprawling maps to populate with all manner of warmachines, everything from robotic tanks that wouldn't look out of place in a modern-day arsenal, to colossal mechanical walkers that tower dozens of stories over the terrain. Even the starter unit, a mobile factory/battlemech called the Armored Command Unit (and the only manned construct in the game), easily stands above the tallest tree. SupCom's sense of scale meshed well with the much-praised Strategic Zoom, a feature that lets you zoom from ground level all the way to a sub-orbital view of the entire theatre of war - see for yourself here.
Forged Alliance is a 'stand-alone' expansion pack for Supreme Commander - I use quotes because I question the term 'stand-alone'. While it's true you needn't have the original Supreme Commander installed to use the game, online multiplayer is limited to the new faction unless you do. Let me spend a few sentences to express my discontent at this design decision; what purpose does it serve except to gouge a little more money from people who may not already have Supreme Commander? Sure Dawn of War did it, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea. Moreover, why the whole ****ing 8-gigabyte install? Why not just a valid CD-key? I can think of much better ways to use those eight gigabytes.
But no matter, if GPG has any sense they'll soon change this in a patch so that it doesn't suck up harddisk space AND they get to keep raking it in. On with the review.
Forged Alliance is more or less what you'd expect from an expansion pack: more of the same. But hey, that's alright, because Supreme Commander was great to begin with. FA throws in a fourth playable faction and a host of new units for the other three, and while all the core mechanics remain intact there are a few minor but signifigant gameplay tweaks. In the original Supreme Commander, skilled players would use the Adjacency system to build large "farms" of mass fabricators and power generators, taking maximum advantage of Adjacency bonuses from generators to reduce the large power drain from mass fabrication. This often occured because a player was attempting to turtle, and having a large mass farm meant that one did not have to venture too far out of one's base to claim "mass deposits", marked locations finite in number upon which one can construct the vastly more energy efficient "mass extractors". Two little changes have been made: fabricators now produce slightly less mass than they did before, and Extractors produce slightly more. Thus, farming is still a viable strategy, but it's more profitable to venture out and battle your opponent over mass deposits.
In addition, the introduction of specialized seige bots designed to crack shields and destroy base defenses (which we'll get to in detail later) is a one-two combonerf to turtling - fine by me, since I was never thrilled with games where opposing players throw waves and waves of units against each others' shields and point-defense guns until either one of them cracks or simply gives up and leaves the game. Making static defenses a little easier to punch through encourages players to be more agressive. If you're really keen on turtling, though, the UEF is by far the best at it; their units are slow but hard-hitting, their T2 shield generators can be upgraded to the T3 models (other factions have to tear them down and build new ones), and they are the only faction with access to a T3 point-defense gun. Oh, and they still have the Mavor artillery emplacement, which gets to keep its ridiculous range and pinpoint accuracy.
One thing SupCom was criticised for, though, was the lack of diversity between the factions. With a few exceptions, each unit and building in one faction had a direct equivalent in the other two, which differs only slightly in attributes. The UEF and Cybran T1 submarines, for example, have a torpedo launcher and a deck gun, whereas the Aeon T1 sub has twin torpedos and no gun (and thus is slightly deadlier because it needn't surface). While the UEF T1 tank has no unique features, the Cybran version can self-repair, and the Aeon version can hover across water. Thus instead of the wildly different playstyles presented by most other RTS games, SupCom's factions had very subtle differences in their usage.
These subtle nuances get a big coat of neon paint in Forged Alliance, largely thanks to the inclusion of about a dozen unique units for each of the three factions. The Cybrans get, among other things, a cool new Experimental spiderbot, a building that gives direct line-of-sight within 25 kilometers (thus defeating radar jamming and stealth), and are now the only faction with a T1 gunship, all of which play towards their strengths as the "guerilla warfare" faction. The Aeon, my personal favorites, add a naval missile platform and an assault bot that cracks shields like eggshells to their arsenal of high-damage but extremely specialized warmachines. Their coolest new toy, though, is an experimental structure that generates limitless resources - balanced by its staggaring build cost and tendancy to explode like a nuclear missile. The UEF, as I explained earlier, get the only T3 point defense in the game, and several more of their slow-moving but nigh-indestructible units.
Which brings us to the new kids on the block, the Seraphim, the only non-human faction in Forged Alliance. Those of you familiar with the backstory of the Aeon Illuminate will recall that its founders encountered an alien race that taught them a pseudo-religious doctarine of peace known as "The Way". As it turns out, these friendly Seraphim were exiled from the rest of their civilization for their laughable belief that The Way is not compatable with full-scale genocide.
Bad luck for humanity, I suppose. As it turns out, though, after a thousand years of fighting the Infinite War, most of the Aeon Illuminate agree with them. Hence the title "Forged Alliance" - the Cybran Nation and the UEF join forces with the handful of Aeon that don't support genocide to battle the approaching alien tide.
Now, since virtually all of the Aeon weapons are derived from Seraphim technology, I was sort of expecting Seraphim units to encroach on the Aeon's niche as the high-tech high-damage faction. I was pleasently surprised; barring one or two exceptional cases, the majority of the Seraphim units, while extremely good-looking and definitively alien (kudos to the art team), are actually substandard until you start approaching the later tech levels. This is exactly opposite the Aeon tech curve, which are more powerful at early stages of the game but sort of level off later on. Seraphim supremicy peaks when a player reaches the experimental units, of which the Seraphin have three instead of the other factions' four. But I suspect the reason for this is because the Seraphim experimental units are, without a doubt, game-ending.
I mean, you've got a gigantic walker-bot, rather like the one the Aeon have except without the iconic eye-deathray. instead it has three - count 'em! - seperate weapon systems that obliterate just about anything on the ground, IN ADDITION to a pair of anti-air guns on its shoulders. Hell, even when the thing dies it leaves behind a quantum energy being that zaps surrounding units with powerful energy discharges for a few seconds before vanishing.
Or, go a different route and built the experimental bomber, a huge shiny aircraft that inexplicably reminds me of a Yin-Yang despite looking nothing like one, and drops a payload capable of breaking shields and leveling small bases.
Or you can build the experimental strategic missile launcher, which fires a nuclear missile so huge it needs twice as many hits from missile defenses to bring down. And if you can't do that, you'd better be far, far away when it goes off.
All in all, I'd say the Seraphim manage to properly distance themselves from the other three factions and fill their own gameplay corner. Should you play an online game with a Seraphim opponent, my advice would be to take him out as fast as you possibly can.
To wrap up, Supreme Commander was a great RTS title, and Forged Alliance builds on its strengths to make it even better. Heartily recommended, even if you never played the original.
Freelance review by Will Roy (December 19, 2007)
Will is grumpy, sarcastic and Canadian. He occasionally crawls out of his igloo to cover sci-fi and strategy games. Has a love-hate relationship with cats. And the colour purple.
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